The court ruling to end extreme political gerrymandering in Wisconsin may have reverberations in neighboring Illinois.
As IVN previously reported, the Wisconsin Republican Party was free to draw districts which ensured the GOP would retain a majority of legislative seats. A 2-1 federal court decision overturned the precedent that it is permissible to dilute the power of voters based on political party.
The Wisconsin attorney general has announced his intention to appeal the decision. The case could eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court panel determined that the present system allowed Wisconsin Republicans to retain as much as two-thirds of the state legislative seats even if Democrats had overall higher voter turnout. In 2012, 51.4% of the vote went to Democrats, but they only received 39 out of 99 seats in the state legislature. Two years later, 52% of the vote for Republicans led to 63 legislative seats.
Unlike Wisconsin, Illinois groups have sought citizen initiatives to reform legislative redistricting. Efforts in the last two election cycles produced initiatives asking Illinois voters to change the redistricting process.
The Independent Map Amendment was the most recent effort in Illinois. The group proposed an independent panel to draw legislative districts instead of lawmakers. Redistricting last occurred in Illinois in 2011. Democratic Speaker of the House Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton held unbreakable majorities excluding Republicans from the process. Democratic supermajorities were not broken until this month.
As Jim Dey of the Champaign Urbana News-Gazette explains, the gerrymandering situation in Wisconsin is similar in Illinois. He recently wrote:
"With control of state maps going back two decades, Madigan was able to translate those shifting demographics that give Democrats nominal control of the state into a political tsunami that made minority Republicans irrelevant to the legislative process."
The attempts in Illinois to end gerrymandering have been largely thwarted by the partisan makeup and decisions of the courts. Despite more signatures than necessary to appear on the November ballot, a circuit court judge ruled this year's initiative unconstitutional. The judge struck it down since the Independent Map Amendment altered the duties of the state’s Auditor General.
However, the decision on Wisconsin gerrymandering could have implications for Illinois election reforms.
Ruth Greenwood, a board member from the Independent Map Amendment, also participated in litigation in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case. She is hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court will open the gates for reform. She said:
"If the state appeals — and they’ve said that they will — we should get a statement from on high."
A U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down or weakening gerrymandering could open up opportunities for states dominated by one political party to conduct competitive elections.